Running a newsroom is a unique gig in a community.
I’m not sure when I learned it’s such. But no doubt, I’m still learning today.
My kids started noticing its uniqueness early on.
Years ago, one son asked my wife: “Why when we go places do so many people talk to Dad?”
It’s a cool position, to be sure.
We just completed a two-week tour of the Great West. It was a trek of discovery for a family and a chance to absorb and observe sons becoming young men.
It was also a chance to open old doors as our West loop swung through a Nebraska town I called home from 1993 to 1997 — a New York guy in smalltown Nebraska. The disparity was lost in my optimism and naivete.
Like oil collects in water, I, two guys from Boston and one from Connecticut found one another and connected often with “back East” stories as we relished in our spectacle status. We shined like four Eskimos living in Salem.
I was editor of that paper, and as I said, it’s a cool position.
But it’s not for everyone.
You get a front-row seat to the lives of so many people. But it’s a seat that’s unconditional. You have it whether a life moment is great or not.
That’s what makes it a gig not for everyone.
You learn to say “yes” and “no” a lot. It’s not always how people you’re talking to want it employed.
I’ll admit that, like the great rivers out West have rounded some jagged rock edges, my “yes” and “no” stances, too, have rounded a bit over the years. Most of that rounding is good in that you gain, over time, a perspective of significance and urgency.
Some of the most-rewarding editor roles are not necessarily tied to making news but of shaping lives.
This week, I got the chance to engage in a project with singer JD Eicher and local schools, as well as have a pointed chat on 3-D manufacturing and the SmartPark project.
There’s a significance and intersect in the job. It’s a uniquely local role and effect.
In Nebraska, the newsroom people are cheery, including those who remain from my mid-’90s days. But they are on the frontlines of the end of local newspapering.
The head press guy was one of the most dedicated men I’d known. He knew every inch and sound his press made. His press is gone, and he now drives daily an hour to pick up the papers from another press.
The editor still has the office that I had, but has also moved over to the publisher’s office. That space was vacated long ago when ownership consolidated leadership. To find the boss of the paper is like finding the boss of your local major bank.
But in their smiles, I still saw the magic of making local lives noteworthy for others.
And I experienced the magic 10 minutes later at lunch.
We ate at Glur’s Tavern, which is on the National Register of Historic Places as the oldest continually operating bar west of the Missouri River. And home to great burgers. With a half-hour of adjustments, the place could be the setting for a Western flick. (Seriously. Look it up online.)
I was 10 feet into the building when the owner yelled from behind the grill:
“Hey, aren’t you that newspaper guy from a bunch of years ago?”
Five of us stared at one another, stunned. The kids got a special kick out of it, tinged with just a bit of “Oh, brother ....”
I walked out of the Salem-sized town in 1997 and have not been back. And 10 feet in, I was the town’s newspaper editor again, kinda.
The same loyal, weathered folks sat at what looked like the same tables from 17 years ago. Only the high-school sports teams’ annual poster calendars seem to have changed.
As the patrons heard the owner and me talk newspaper life, they chimed in on us because, well, at Glur’s you can. Everyone’s conversation can be yours too.
The Telegram was smaller; not as much news; it went from seven days to six and will soon be just five days.
But they know the paper, and they are connected by it. It was spread out on the bar and some tables — the product of honest souls driven to make the easy and hard decisions deemed best for a town.
That the Glur’s owner knew me certainly said something about his memory.
It may have said a bit about me in that town. Remember we were East Coasters in small Midwest spot right about the time that salsa commercial came out — “It’s made in New York City?”
But it said more about the role of an editor in a town — big or small — and how unique it is. After 17 years, it took him 10 feet to recall that person.
I don’t see that same commitment and impact coming to Glur’s or other places from Google or Facebook or whatever dot.com next pops up that will surely seize on the town’s ad dollars but certainly not its soul.